After Saturday night's loss in Detroit, coach Michael Malone vowed to change his starting lineup in response to the Nuggets lack of energy and poor play to start games.
It turns out that the only change Malone would end up making to his lineup was inserting presumptive starting shooting guard Gary Harris, who missed Denver's previous five games after partially tearing his right groin in the preseason, but Malone's comments were apparently heard loud and clear by his players, mainly Emmanuel Mudiay.
Mudiay was unconscious from the opening tip, scoring 24 points in the first quarter on 9-10 shooting. Mudiay also went 3-4 from three with his only miss of the quarter coming from distance. In total, Mudiay outscored Boston 24-23 over the game's first 12 minutes as Denver led 42-23 at the end of the first. He finished the night with 30 points, which tied his career high and paced the Nuggets in a 123-107 blowout win over the Celtics.
"I saw an aggressive confident young man out there, who took the game over," Michael Malone said of Mudiay's quarter and game tonight. "Emmanuel's mindset to start the game was imposed his will from the jump ball and that's what he needs to do every night."
Boston briefly rallied in the third after the Nuggets led by as much as 25 points throughout the first half and went on a quick 6-0 run to start the quarter. However, after a quick Denver timeout, Malone inserted Wilson Chandler, who like he's done throughout the Nuggets first five games of the season, steadied Denver's offense.
Chandler scored a season-high 22 points on 8-14 shooting in just 25 minutes but exited the game with 2:40 left in the third quarter after experiencing tightness in his left hamstring and did not return.
"If he can keep this up he’s making a good case for Sixth Man of the Year," Malone said.
Throughout the first three quarters while Chandler was playing, Malone was able to deploy what's becoming Denver's "Death Lineup" of sorts early this season. Coming into tonight, when Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Nikola Jokic share the floor, the Nuggets have outscored opponents 37-14 in only 12 minutes of action. That lineup will only get better as it plays more minutes with Harris this year.
Harris, in his first start of the season, was also impressive. Although he was on a 15-20-minute restriction, Harris started and played 21 minutes, scored 12 points, hit a three, recorded a patented Harris steal and looked every bit the player he was last season.
Harris helped limit the Celtics to 44.4 percent shooting in the first half and although Isaiah Thomas did score 30 points on 9-17 shooting, some of which came while being defended by Harris, he'll help sure up Denver's perimeter defense which has struggled early on this year.
"Y'all don't understand. That man there makes my life so much easier," Mudiay said postgame on how Harris helps him on the court.
The final component of that trio, Danilo Gallinari, played a season-high 44 minutes after logging 29 minutes in Detroit Friday. Gallinari scored 16 points on 7-13 shooting. Gallinari also among the league leaders in minutes, a concerning statistic given his injury history.
TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts | November 6, 2016 | Regular Season Game No. 6
NUGGETS STAR OF THE GAME
Chandler had another solid game and might have been Denver's best player on both ends of the floor tonight, but Mudiay's first quarter set the Nuggets up for a smooth ride the rest of the way. What was most impressive about Mudiay, or maybe concerning about Denver's offense was how he got his buckets.
Mudiay hit shots over defenders, in isolations, and off the dribble, not exactly what he's excelled at throughout his career and it was great to see a bunch of shots go down in a hurry for the second-year point guard. But for Mudiay to continue his success this year, the Nuggets will have to continue to run him through a heavy amount of pick-and-rolls with the Denver bigs going forward.